For me, 9/11 is now about milk.
It certainly hasn’t always been, especially not over the last 10 years, since the unimaginable happened.
For the past decade, has been a moment frozen in time, one where the axis of the universe shifted irreparably, and the shockwave made time stand still.
Sense memory is powerful, and I can feel in every cell of my body as if I’m still standing exactly where I was, rooted to the concrete of a Chicago sidewalk, when my cell phone rang and I heard my sister gasp, “A plane just hit the World Trade Tower.”
Watching the horrible events in New York play out on television, far away from the city I’d spent a decade in and away from all my family but my husband, was at once humbling and excruciating. We were vulnerable and yet safe, and I wanted to run toward Manhattan and away at the same time.
I was very newly pregnant with my first child. Suddenly the kernel of the idea of parenthood and things you teach a child were also wholly changed forever.
How would the world be whole and right for this child ever again? When chaos calmed, what would we tell him about the world now?
Our collective perspective of the world has careened and shifted in the 10 years since. We were attacked, our mission is strengthened, we’re the most right, we have enemies… The day has sometimes been politicized, lessons may not have always been learned, we certainly haven’t found peace.
But what can’t we lose sight of? When my editor asked me to write about 9/11, I could approach it in the only way I knew how:
What will I tell my children?
For when that universal axis shifted for me, it locked in place the realization that whatever happens in the world, I now witness it through a prism of asking, “How will my children face that day from here on in?”
The answers I’ve come up with are random and organized all at once, but for me it boils down to this: morality. I need to find the morality of the day and be rooted in that. When the plane struck the first tower, suddenly the world seemed less moral for just one moment, but I’ve found some sort of explanation in always searching to find the morality again.
I look for morality in teaching my children respect for those in uniform. The heroes who rushed toward the danger rather than away. The heroes who joined the forces after 9/11 out of their desire . The heroes who were children when their parents died on that day and have decided to continue the mission of helping others in the footsteps of their loved ones now gone.
I look for morality in teaching my children that we are not alone in this world. What we are and what we believe impacts others, good and bad. Others impact us, good and bad. We are not always implicitly right. We are not “better than” but we have to be our own better selves, in knowing how we relate in the world—and how to be better at it.
I look for morality in teaching my children never to forget those who died that day. We read their names to make sure they are not forgotten. We remember them as standard bearers for the kind of life and beliefs that others tried to stamp out, but failed. We honor their legacy by fully savoring the moments we have together and ensuring that life goes forward.
I look for morality in teaching them that while there is evil and darkness in the world, there is also good. The Twin Towers were targets because of what they symbolized—yes, materialism and boastful bigness, but also optimism. We are a nation of people who strive and thrive and adapt and give and live with hope. That despite what obstacles and difficulties we encounter, we have hope that we will prevail. And that’s what eternally carries us forward.
Which brings me back to milk.
My father ran an errand for my mother a week or so ago, running to the store to pick up a gallon of milk. In the dairy aisle, he scanned the dates of the cartons, and all he saw was 9/11. He left without buying one, feeling that anything stamped with that date wasn’t right and that it would be somehow disrespectful.
Mundane? Perhaps. Is the date 9/11 forever tainted for things like milk? Will the day forever be taken from us for anything but mourning and remembrance?
Somehow, as mundane and everyday as it is, buying a carton of milk with a Sept. 11 date, is life. Being able to make choices freely, being able to live and give to the future—that’s what those who wished us evil that day tried, and failed, to take from us. They tried to take away our safety and security in the everyday, baby steps of life, to leave us feeling vulnerable that on Sept. 11, or April 6, or Nov. 2, or any day, anything could happen.
We need to honor those who died that day by taking back the everyday of Sept. 11. We need to pause and remember with solemn respect and commitment, and forge forward strong in our commitment to living our lives with perpetual optimism and morality.
We need to take back Sept. 11, and make it ours.